Democratic Presidential Candidates Visit West
March 19 and 20, 2008
Photos by Vivian Stockman
"Clean" Coal Candidates Confronted with Mountaintop Removal
West Virginia's primary is in May, but the
two remaining candidates for the Democrats' nominee for President are in
a tight race, so the candidates are already working the state.
The moment OVEC board member
Larry Gibson heard the candidates would be here, he contacted
others. Folks had barely a day to organize, but many quickly rallied
with plans to attend the events in order to question the candidates
about their stance on mountaintop removal
Like Senator John McCain, the presumptive
Republican nominee for President, both Senators Hilary Clinton and Barak
using the words "clean" and "coal" together. It's pitiful,
but not surprising that the candidates are all spouting the coal
most-favored Orwellian phrase. After all the "Clean Coal"
Coalition or some such entity has
sponsored presidential debates and the coal industry (under the
guise of "Americans For Balanced Energy") is
spending $35 million on propaganda during the campaign season.
Talk of "clean" coal would be more honestly presented as
"slightly less dirty" burning of coal. While it's a
fabulous idea to attempt to clean up coal-fired power plant emissions,
the pollutants that used to go up the stack don't magically disappear.
And, reducing emissions from burning coal in no-way addresses the full
cycle of our coal use--from extraction to disposal of the ash.
Guess the candidates haven't
digested the truth quite yet: Coal's dirty when you
mine it, dirty when you
for market, dirty when you
haul it to market, dirty when you
burn it, and dirty when you "dispose" of the ash.
And it sure dirties up politics!
Clinton learned quite a bit about mountaintop
removal at a
June 6, 2002 hearing. At the hearing, she told Backstreet
Boys' Kevin Richardson she would take a
flyover of mountaintop removal mining areas. That flight hasn't happened
On a very rainy March 19, several of us
stood outside the Clinton event with "Stop Mountaintop Removal" signs
for hours, receiving loads of supportive honks from people headed to
hear her speech. Clinton's motorcade buzzed by us so fast our signs were
probably only a blur to occupants of the assorted SUVs in motorcade.
We also had people inside the event, ready
to ask questions about her stance on mountaintop removal if Clinton
called on them, which she didn't. Fortunately, however, West Virginia
Public Radio asked her about mountaintop removal. She replied:
"I am concerned about it for all the
reasons people state, but I think its a difficult question because of
the conflict between the economic and environmental trade-off that you
"I'm not an expert. I don't know enough to
have an independent opinion, but I sure would like people who could be
objective, understanding both the economic necessities and environmental
damage to come up with some approach that would enable us to retrieve
the coal but would enable us to do it in a way that wouldn't damage the
living standards and the other important qualities associated with
people living both under the mountaintop and people who are along the
"You know, maybe there is a way to recover
those mountaintops once they have been stripped of the coal. You know, I
think we've got to look at this from a practical perspective."
Well, a lot more educating to do there...
The next day, more of us were stationed
throughout the arena where Obama was speaking. Early on, a
question about mountaintop removal came up.
The Beckley Register Herald reported:
Beckley gave Obama a taste of the
complexities of West Virginia politics when Chad Foreman of Fayetteville
asked the candidate a question about mountaintop removal mining.
Obamas answer didnt give much red meat
to either environmentalists or coal supporters, both of which had loud
contingents in the audience.
He stressed the need for a balanced
approach between environmental concern and preserving jobs.
"Im not just going to take a bunch of
contributions from the coal industry and do their bidding, any more than
I would only listen to the environmentalists," Obama said. "I want to
listen to everybody."
Obama also said, "We've got to transition
into clean energy...but it's not going to happen overnight...I have the
aggressive goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2020."
Obama took more questions and eventually
looked over at the man in the neon-green ball cap and sweat shirt, our
own Larry Gibson. Obama, like many of us, noticed Larry's dogged
persistence: the Presidential candidate invited Larry to speak, saying,
"This gentlemen in the green has hand his hand up for a long time."
Larry stood up and said, "Senator Obama, I
appreciate your stand on the war. You mentioned water a while ago. Water
is something we all need... We have a House Bill 2169, the
Clean Water (Protection) Act...we had a gentleman back here
touch on mining. Like I said about the war in Iraq, we'd like you to
consider the war we have here in Appalachia, with over 474 mountains
blowed up...and it's the the mining polluting the water...I'd like to
know your opinion about it."
Obama replied, "I want strong enforcement
of the Clean Water Act. I will make sure the head of the Environmental
Protection Agency believes in the environment and enforces the Clean
Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
"What I want to do is work with experts here in West Virginia to find
out what we need to do to protect the waterways here. That's going to be
a primary task of the head of my Environmental Protection Agency.
"I was talking to a Rabbi earlier today about the Old Testament and how
we are supposed to be good stewards of the environment. You asked me
earlier about my Christian faith. Part of my faith is that we have to be
good stewards of the land so that we are passing on a planet to our
children and our grandchildren that is as beautiful and as bountiful as
the one that we inherited from our parents and our grandparents."
Below are photos from the March 19th and 20th events. (Note that OVEC's
group inside the Clinton event didn't have cameras.)
|March 19. A few of the crew gretting folks
heading to the Clinton speech.
|Senator Barack Obama makes a point, while
Senator Jay Rockefeller, at right, looks on.
|Larry Gibson, left of center in the photo, with
his hand raised.
|Larry's hand is still raised...
|Finally, Larry asks his question.
|A reporter interviews Larry after the event.